Archives

Group Think or a Polarized Society

The term “polarized” continues to permeate the land and, as I suspected, we would be in a new type of civil war. Many years ago, when I worked for social services I had the insight that soon we would be fighting a new type of civil war. I told my fellow co-workers it would be vastly different from the last one but equally deadly. Here we are, on the heels of the position being filled for the 45th president of the United States. Republicans and Democrats had been at each other’s throat even before then; as we saw in the election for President Bush. At that time, there were claims then that it had been rigged (and liberals would be moving to Canada). Now that we have another Republican who has succeeded, once again the charges of rigging the election have occurred. Only this time it has been taken to a new level. It cannot just be that the person won the election.

The Media has jumped on this bandwagon; of course they always do, and have terrorized the country with their “opinions.” Good journalism is really a testimony to people who actually work on finding the truth and presenting evidence, on both sides, so that people can come to their own opinions. Some newspapers are known for this. Some are known for being sensationalists.

 

“Group Think,” is a psychological phenomenon that is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility. I would add to this that even intelligent, educated folks fall prey to this mindset just as easily as uneducated, naïve people. It happens on juries, though people are cautioned to not be persuaded by others, it can be hard not to; at the end of the day.

So many times this has happened in our history and though people have appeared to be in favor of doing the right thing for the majority of the people, someone (often large amounts of people) always gets killed. When they are killed, it will be argued that sometimes this has to happen in order to create change. This happens even though the ones being killed have no weapons. They probably would in defense, if they knew they were about to be killed but they don’t. Thus by the time people are killed and consequently become saints, it is too late to feel some remorse. The victors end up the enemies or the traitors and then over time, during a period of healing and quiet; people realize what they had done wrong.

 

Another unfortunate issue with “group think,” is that when it is over with, many people who conformed to this position will pretend they never did. It takes guts to take responsibility for your mistakes. By this time, there is too much fear that if they admit, they will be tortured or punished in some way. And many times they are.

How do we heal from such trying times? A holistic minded person would not conform but take a step back and view all the angles. They would reach into their history books for research on other such occasions and try to compare and contrast. They would look at the long term consequences of the decisions, (or orders) being expected and think for themselves. They would trust their instincts rather than following their ego.

It is important to have respect for the person in charge, whether you like them or not. Our country is based on a democratic mindset which means that sometimes Republicans will be in power and sometimes Democrats. Many of us would like to see more than two choices but at the moment; we can at least be glad there is more than one. I doubt anyone can say they have liked every single president because the world is not about you and what you want. I have found that for the most part, in our history, we have flip-flopped so obviously that you can always predict who will win the presidential race. This time it was the Republicans turn. Eventually it will be the Democrats turn. Instead of acting like gang leaders and forming red and blue teams, it would behoove the opposite side to focus on what went wrong and begin planning a strategy going forward. Generally this is what was done in the past.

It would also be important to figure out how to work with the person in charge. More happens with sugar than vinegar, as the saying goes. People are so angry right now, one side because they lost and the other side because their power is put into question. People stop being friends with those who don’t think like them, which causes some to conform. This is either out of fear of isolation or fear of being killed (metaphorically or realistically). It is a scary time now and not because of the person in the White House but because of the uprising all around him. It makes our country look very weak and of course vulnerable. When this is the case, it is so easy to take advantage. This is what concerns me right now. We are sitting ducks, due to our polarization. No one seems interested in ending the feud and trying to find balance. Meanwhile, both teams think they have the most power and that people are listening to them. They are blind, deaf and dumb. But they are Right!

Life is a rip off when you expect to get what you want. Life works when you choose what you got. Actually, what you got is what you chose. To move on, choose it. Werner Erhard

 

 

Advertisements

Support for Partners of Vets, Desperately Needed

The film, “Thank you for Your Service,” is an outstanding movie. It is informative and directed more like a documentary rather than a blockbuster film with special effects and big names. This is essential to make it raw and to create an illusion that you are in the midst of someone’s private life. And you are because even though these are all actors, they are portraying real people and these events did happen.

So I would like to use this film as a spring board into the issue of support for partners of vets, which is not the intention of this film; though it is there begging to be the subtitle. All of this film caused me to be at the edge of my seat because the male soldiers were so emotionally unstable; I felt afraid of what they were going to do next. The ending hit with a bomb as the main soldier told the story of how a woman’s husband was killed. Yet what stuck with me the most was this line, which says so much about women today “Would you like a blow job,” she says thinking this will comfort her husband. He isn’t communicating with her and this is all she can think of. This comment and the woman’s fixation on sex (to get him to talk) during the entire movie is just one of the reasons it is imperative to have support for partners of vets.

Back in the early 80’s, my then husband was a sailor enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was about to be deployed on a West-Pac (aka tour of the Western Pacific) for six months. The families were brought in for a meeting prior to their departure to help couples understand what to expect, or what was normal. They told us about the departure, a little bit about what was going to happen and when we should expect the men to return. They also talked to us about relationships and sending letters, and about the fact that the Captain’s wife would be our ombudsman, available to us while the men were gone. This woman, whose name I cannot recall, met with the ladies during the six months on at least a monthly basis. We got together to chat, have coffee, discuss the letters we were receiving, any news we might need to know and ask questions about our housing, our money or any other issues of concern. It helped to build comradery, alleviate isolation and perhaps depression, but also to develop respect for the military and our spouses.

As I work with the military now, as a contracted civilian psychotherapist, not one single person has understood what an ombudsmen is nor do they recall such intimate gatherings taking place as I assumed was typical. There are yellow ribbon ceremonies that take place months after a return from deployment. At these presentations it is nicknamed “death by power point,” which means there isn’t a lot of concentration on what is being said. The meeting I attended with my ex-husband in the 80’s was approximately 30 people with our Captain speaking to us directly. The ceremonies today can be anywhere from 70-300 and sometimes even more than this. My psychotherapy table is the least visited booth on the breaks. Once the ceremony is over, people race to get out the door first. It is very sad to me because this is too little, too late and I feel as if it is nothing more than a checkbox being ticked; rather than attention to the mental health needs of men and women both soldiers and their partners. When I talk to people about this, the only thing I ever hear is “it would cost too much money.” This essentially means a person’s life is not worth it. What we see in the movie noted above is the main character being told by the VA that he won’t be able to see a mental health person for a number of weeks. He responds that he could be dead [by suicide] by then.

Going back to the issue of partners in the military, the point is that women today have no self-respect (nor do men) and look at themselves as sexual objects rather than partners and team players. What can we expect though when we live in a sexualized society where people are overly focused on what your sex type is and are confused about what gender they want to be? Where women believe that a date means you need to have your breasts hanging out, heavy make-up and six inch heels rather than a time to dress like a woman with the intention of getting to know the man in front of you.

Many children today are raised by single parents and sometimes they don’t even know their father or their paternal family. Often I see that they are pacified by technology. The teen girls and young adult women I talk to don’t use birth control and so many are desperate to trap the guy with a baby. Others use feeble excuses as to why they don’t use protection such as the doctor said they couldn’t get pregnant or it has been so long without a pregnancy they thought they couldn’t. These guys are happy to become “gamers” today and the girls stand idly by wondering why they won’t pay attention to them. They don’t need a war to ignore.

Since everywhere a woman turns she is being portrayed as a sex object, in the media and society, what else is there for her to think? Parents are not educating their children on sexuality nor are they teaching standards (I see this moreso with one parent families because there is no time to have quality time). Parents often race to get home to cook dinner while they check FB or Twitter and start chatting with someone else who is not there. Thus the kids are following their intended role models.

Once women were groomed to be married and the talk of sex was the last thing they would learn (if they had a talk at all). They learned about courting men which meant being a good conversationalist. They learned to dress appropriately so as not to tease. They learned to behave like mature ladies rather than silly girls. They understood that at times men needed their space and to walk away and self-soothe if need be like attending to a personal project or hobby. Women used to be self-sufficient. They were involved in women’s groups, charities/fundraisers, raising their children, running a household. Their days as teens were not spent hoping they would get laid but hoping they would find a suitable match. Their parents didn’t allow them to shop at a store such as “Victoria’s Secret” and purchase thongs or push up bra’s (when I was a teen even, this was a store for adult women not teenagers), it was a time of restraint and modesty.

We have come to a place where we have no standards. There are no rules in society. We are career women yet many go to work thinking about some guy they will see there. We don’t dress like women who want to get ahead because we have lost a sense of dignity and integrity. More and more companies are adopting a work culture with no professional dress policies.

Therefore, how can we expect a young woman whose husband or partner comes home from war to think of nothing more than sex? The soldier is coming home from war without their mental health as a top priority, even though they are a ticking time bomb. The partner has no support, the soldier has no support and so it is the blind leading the blind. I’ve seen so many resources available to give the post-deployment folks free this and free that and incentives for one thing or another. All this money could be utilized more effectively by supporting them with psycho-education and mental health services that are mandatory and respected.

In the movie the soldier is told (by his superior), to not allow his men to see him as a weak person getting services from mental health. This is not an isolated situation as I hear this time and time again from vets and their partners. We are all too aware of the problems with the Veteran’s Administration. What some people don’t realize is there is not enough staff and people are backlogged and no one gets preferential treatment. The staff are not treated fairly or with respect in some cases, no different than corporate America. Essentially, they are government workers no different than at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I learned recently it is not run by the military but by a corporate boss who is assigned to head the VA but this is not necessarily based on merit, experience, or military background.

In Britain, after a woman gives birth, a health worker follows her for a year to teach her how to care for her new child. In Britain, when soldiers return from war, they are held on base for 30 days before reintegration into society (as I’ve been told by an officer) and have a much lower suicide rate than the U.S. When astronauts land back on earth, they too are held before being reintegrated back in society. Why do we choose to ignore the people we have trained to kill, knowing full well that more than 30% will come back with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Worse than this is that 20 veterans die by suicide daily. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists have been fighting with the military for years to hire us to work with soldiers on base. The jobs currently only recognize social workers.

What I would like to see is an independently licensed clinician, who serves as a family support worker. Someone who is assigned to a household that they follow for a year pre and post-deployment on a monthly basis. Someone who goes to the home weekly post-deployment, and then monthly once services are set up and followed through on. We do this with foster children as this was once my job. While in the home, the worker would be responsible for psycho-education first and foremost, secondly helping the family to fill out forms and explaining the importance of these services. Their job would be to assess and monitor follow-through on mental health support (not to provide it, i.e., not be the actual therapist as you cannot be in a dual role but offer counseling support). This job would then write reports to provide to a supervisor who is monitoring the clinicians in the home. No confidential information need be provided to anyone with exception to that which is a limit to confidentiality (which already exists for clinicians in the military). The records that pertain to mental health would be held by the supervisor. The supervisor could provide demographic information in the way of statistics so that the information gained could be utilized effectively within the military.

You would need a licensed independent clinician handling this assignment in the home as they would be qualified to assess major vs. minor psychological concerns that a simple case worker with only undergraduate knowledge would not have. Obviously, these clinicians would need special training to have more knowledge of military life, family needs as well as advanced training in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorders), TBI (traumatic brain injury) and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) symptoms.
If this type of support were made available to families, I suspect (common sense) that one would see lowered rates of death by suicide, homicide short-term and long-term, military divorce post-deployment, and a better quality of life overall to be had by military families.

We are in a pro-military society now and have gained so much psychological knowledge about the effects of battle since World War I. Why are we wasting this valuable information? Why are we spending so much money on war and then spend money on incentives rather than quality support? Why is a soldier’s life valuable but his/her partner’s is not especially when the family unit is imperative to the success of the soldier’s return? The success rate of person’s who struggle with PTSD is partly dependent on how it is managed within the family (believability, validation) and what support systems they have available to them in the community as well as through mental health and other adjunct resources (i.e., books, workshops, groups).

What we are essentially saying to a soldier and their family is “Thank you for your service and hey, Good Luck to you!” Isn’t this a bit hypocritical? I think they deserve better.

Mental Health and Gun Control – 19 Years

This past month has been a terrible time for those of us in Columbus, Ohio. First, we lost a juvenile who was in court and, because of his violent behaviors, was subsequently shot outside of court by a deputy sheriff. Then we lost two respected police officers in the very small town of Westerville. Both involved mental health issues of the victim in one case and the perpetrator in another. In the past week, our country lost a total of 5 police officers, including Westerville. We lost a total of 17 teens and school staff in one high school in Florida.

High school shootings have been going on since 1999. Now we are hearing the media say FL was worse than Columbine. This isn’t a competition to see whomever shoots the most kids wins. All school shootings are traumatic, are equal and should never have happened. It is time to wake up and smell the coffee.

We need to stop blaming and start taking action. Political activists want to blame and act as if it is the Republicans fault that high school shootings exist; when in fact we have had both Democrat and Republican presidents since 1999. Over the years, both sides have made statements about offering love and prayers, obviously they are going to say that because it would be heartless not to. What is worse though is that both sides have said “This will never happen in our country again.” Unfortunately we have now seen 19 years of this happening again in our country. We have seen this happen at the college level, high schools and an elementary school. It is time to stop blaming one side or the other and get to the table and have discussions. To start with, this does not belong on a lobbyist table, it needs to be a discussion of professionals in the mental health industry, police officers, forensic specialists as well as the leaders in the NRA and they need to listen to one another. Listening is the key ingredient in making change, not trying to get votes.

I have been in the mental health profession since high school shootings began. I was trained in holistic thought processes so I am not prone to listening to one side; I try to hear the whole story. You can’t understand anything unless you are looking at the big picture and the long term effects. I have lots of prejudices, believe me, yet I work with people from all different backgrounds, including those I have opinions about. However, because I believe people have a right to be heard and it is hard for me not to have empathy when I hear them and have taken them into my fold as a therapist, I am able to set my opinions aside for this client or clients and provide them the support that they need. After all, working with someone in therapy, I believe, is helping them to become a better person. This is what it means to be a professional.

America has become a Roe v. Wade in the sense that everything is a Pro-Life v. Pro-Choice extreme thinking conversation. No one ever listens to the other side. It is idiotic and stupid when one side is incapable of listening to what the other side has to say. It is ridiculous to hold an opinion that you are right and they are wrong. Sure we all joke and say, “but I am right,” but to actually believe this to the point that you can’t possibly sit down with your opposing view neighbor and have a cup of coffee and hear what each other has to say is beyond sad. It is disturbing and this is what our country has to offer right now.

All these people who get on bandwagons and say they are “tolerant” or “celebrate diversity,” are online yelling at the other side and giving their biases about race, religion or culture. When we are behaving in such a hostile environment as we are on social media, how can we expect that a mentally unwell person is not going to take advantage of this? If Kathy Griffin isn’t capable of understanding that there is a line you don’t cross when it comes to shouting your hatred toward the president of the United States, how in the world can you expect a mentally unwell person to understand and intellectualize what is happening online?

It has become common place to hear about shootings and we have become immune to this. We get an endorphin rush when it happens and a week later we forget. What do we expect is going to happen to someone who has mental health problems and is paying attention to all of this online. We get to be voyeurs but they internalize it and fantasize about it and feel empowered by this.

Madeline Albright (the first female Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton) spoke in San Jose, CA sometime in the early 2000’s and I went to listen to her talk. She spoke about the split in politics and how it has become so damaging to the D.C. atmosphere. When she began her journey in politics, it was normal for Republicans and Democrats to eat together, party together even walk down the street together. Our country being divided to the point of not being able to say who you voted for without getting spit on, means we do not live in a safe place and we cannot expect things to change; as long as we behave in this manner. If our politicians can’t behave like professionals and respect their own colleagues, how can we citizens be expected to behave like decent people? Right now the Democrats are just being sore losers and this is what we teach our children across the country not to do when they are on a team. Republicans were sore losers during Obama; worrying about a birth certificate. Each politician who wins the presidency has 4-8 years in which they can be elected to serve. Be patient and it will be your turn. The winners go in cycles; it is just the way we vote. There has not been one president that has been perfect and not one who has not been narcissistic.

There has been 19 years of school shootings though, with both Democrats and Republicans serving our country. We do need gun control – obviously – no one needs an assault weapon. We should be grown up and mature enough to understand that no one is saying you can’t carry a gun. It is one thing to carry a gun in your holster, on your belt that you are legally allowed to carry or a hunter with a rifle in the back of their truck on a rack. It is one thing to have a gun legally and one illegally. The topic of Mental Health needs to be brought in and we need to be more strict about mental health assessments when carrying a gun. Perhaps everyone needs to have a mental health assessment in order to legally purchase a gun. It wouldn’t be a bad idea. I have family that all carry guns, they would not like to be inconvenienced. However, I am sure all the families who are victims of the 19 years of school shootings, did not like to be inconvenienced either. When the “right to keep and bear arms” amendment was signed into the constitution, we were a different world. Back then it was cowboys and Indians and revolutions that made a positive difference in this country. School shootings make a negative difference in this country, it harms our psyche and destroys our families.

I am listening to children tell me they are afraid to go to school. They are having panic attacks whenever there are noises at school. Instead of just a tornado drill or an earthquake drill, they are having to learn how to hide from a school shooter. I am hearing parents who want to put their kids in private education or home school them. Is this what we are going to come to because adult professionals are not capable of coming to the table and reach an agreement?

Then of course you have the criminal world. No matter what we do, criminals and mentally unwell people can get access to a gun out on the streets. It is not too hard to  go into a bad neighborhood and within a few minutes find someone walking down the street who knows someone who has one to sell. Having worked in bad neighborhoods and spent many conversations talking to people who lived there, I am aware of how easy this is. Having spoken to people who have been drug addicts or alcoholics, I have heard many stories of how easy it is to get what you want if you need a fix. This means we need to have tighter laws about what happens to people who are caught selling guns illegally. The guy who sold the gun to the perpetrator of the two police officers in Westerville was found and brought in. I have no idea at this point what will happen to him or what the laws are currently. I do know that in California, where I used to work on the streets, a crime carries a stiffer penalty if it is gang related. Do we have strict enough laws for the people selling guns illegally, nationwide? Shouldn’t they get the same attention as the perpetrator, since they knew the reason for buying was not for something good? Wouldn’t they be an accessory to the crime?

These are the questions we need to be asking. We need to have discussions about this within our communities and amongst our professionals and come to some answers that we then present to Washington. But it is time for us to behave like grown-ups and professionals and listen with the purpose of coming up with a solution. I am tired of hearing that the NRA has control over Congress. What does this mean? It means that they have control over the lives of our children and grandchildren. Again, if they have had control over Congress they have had it for at least the 19 years we have been concerned and this has been over terms of both Republican and Democrat presidents.

What is a solution that is workable? What is a solution that is going to be tougher on crime, stricter on mental health awareness and reporting and one that makes sense and will protect our children, our families and our country? Stop blaming and start forming community discussion groups, in person because we aren’t capable of having talks online. Bring all the professionals involved to a table and have a discussion that is going to create positive change in our country. We don’t need an assault weapon to go hunting in the woods or to protect our family. A simple gun or rifle will work fine. Let’s show our children that we are capable of making this world a safer place.

Mindful Driving

Drivers are more and more dangerous on the streets and highways than ever before. The notion of mindfulness has begun to be the buzz word of the day and so I continue to think about this as I am behind the wheel. What would it look like if we all drove mindfully?

When you go to your car, truck, or whatever mode of transportation you might work in (subway, semi, train) it is important to focus on the task at hand. First, thinking consciously about your vehicle when you turn it on. How does it sound? Do you have enough gas? Do you need lights on? What are the road conditions that you are about to embark on? Have you sufficiently prepared your self for the weather of the day with proper clothing? I think about pilots when they are about to fly and all the preparations that go in to getting off the ground. You are the pilot of your vehicle and the same attention must be paid to the safety of your self and others. While you may not have 300 passengers in the rear, you have hundreds to thousands (i.e., LA) of people next to you on the road.

Every time you get behind a wheel, it is important to be conscious of these things as your mindset will affect the lives of so many people. And not just those on the road directly but their families who will indirectly bear the burden of the decisions you make.

As you enter the street, from your own driveway, thinking about the world you are about to embark on. Who is coming out of their driveways? What is on the road in front of you? Do you need to keep a watchful eye for animals (deer, squirrels, domestic pets), in your neighborhood? Of course don’t forget children on bicycles or playing on sidewalks – is their ball going to slip out onto the street and then they go running after it? Mindfully taking in all that is around you.

When you get to the end of the street it is important to stay behind the stop sign. If there is no stop sign, you are still mandated to stay at the end of the street, not out into on-coming traffic where people will now have to get over to go around you, thereby making it even slower for you to turn right or left. When you are causing traffic to re-route for your decisions, it causes more stress on everyone around you, including your self. This also causes people to then be mindful of every street corner, expecting people to come racing out and being the cause of constant braking.

Traffic lights are extremely important to focus on. If you are unfamiliar with the neighborhood, don’t race through the yellow light that may only stay that way for a few seconds. Going through a red light puts an entire intersection in danger and it is playing Russian roulette. What good does it do your body if you smash into another driver who had the green light? If there is a storm and the traffic lights are out, there are rules for crossing the street. Each side takes turns as you then become mindful of an imaginary stop sign. It does no one any good if you are in the middle of the street, five cars deep, sitting there so that no one has a chance of crossing. Most states have laws about blocking the streets in traffic (with or without a light that is working).

As you enter the entrance to the freeway/highway/interstate, whatever you code this federal or state boulevard. Mindfully focusing on everyone around you. As we learned in Driver’s Ed, what is happening in front, to the right, to the left, and in behind? Watching all directions and paying attention to what is going on. When you are switching lanes, have you indicated this with your lights? Is there at least a car lengths space between you and the driver in front and back? With more than three lanes, what is the guy to the left doing? Is he also trying to get into the same lane you are going to? For those behind the car trying to switch lanes – giving them the common courtesy of getting over. If you are in a merge lane, this means you have an imaginary yellow light (you take caution when approaching on-coming traffic). People on the freeway are not meant to put on their brakes so merging traffic can come in. It is best when those on the freeway can get over for merging traffic, if that is possible but when you have a merging lane and an exit lane in the exact same place, this is rather difficult for all involved. Again, being mindful of driving carefully and cautiously of all around you.

Traffic for work – we are all going to work, you are no exception. Driving at the pace of others will do the least amount of damage if we are all focused together. Whether you are five minutes late or fifteen minutes late, you are still late. You still run the risk of getting written up by your boss. If you are thinking that you need to race to be a few minutes less late, you are putting others in danger and run the risk of hitting someone. Then you will likely be up to an hour (or more) late for causing traffic damage. Racing to get to work also causes stress on the other drivers around you. Those people who are driving mindfully and were conscious of leaving at the correct time that day, are having to be distracted by your mistakes. People become nervous and when this occurs they make mistakes too. Some people on the road are brand new drivers, going to their first jobs. Dealing with people who are racing to work can cause an inexperienced driver to have an accident at your expense.

Racing to get to work and racing to get home. You are racing to get somewhere that many people don’t want to be at and then you race to get home to complain about this. How much of your life is wasted by racing? How would your day be at work if you were mindfully driving to get there? How would your evening be at home if you were conscious of being in the car on the way home? Your life exists behind the wheel, not just what happens after you get out. The saying “Be Here Now,” means that. There is also another favorite quote “Life Wastes Itself When we are Preparing to Live.” When you arrive out of breath, you have missed out on minutes of your life that you can not get back.

Take care of yourself on the way to work or where ever it is you are headed. Have nice relaxing, calming music playing to help you be mindful of the road. This type of music also helps people to be less stressed. It doesn’t matter what genre the music is in, if you feel happy and want to smile, then this is the music for you. For long trips, use audio books to enjoy the time in a quality way. There are also CD’s to learn a new language. What a wonderful and different way to travel.

Mindful driving would change our world and make us a part of the world around us.  Without mindful driving, we are merely one person against others rather than one person amongst others. Think of this the next time you get behind a wheel. You might just end up saving a life today.

Don’t Text and Drive

This is a new documentary by Werner Herzog that EVERY driver should watch. We need to bring back common sense to driving and remember that there are other people on the road. Nothing is more important when you are driving then keeping your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. When you lose someone to a car accident, like I have (not because of texting though), you are more mindful of driving. It should not take the loss of anyone to understand public safety.